Living in Transitory

lost child by vanamonster

lost child by vanamonster

I came to Canada when I was 14 years old. When I arrived in Toronto, it didn’t register that this would be my permanent home. To me,  it was a long extended vacation that I had to overcome in order to go back home, which was Manila, Philippines.

I always thought that by now I would have adjusted to seeing myself as Canadian. However, as much as I am starting to exhibit Canadian values and traits, it is only now that I’ve grown into adulthood 10 years later that I am starting to realize how incredibly non-Canadian I am, especially when I’m with a group of people who grew up together in Canada, talking about their childhood.

They forget that I didn’t grow up here as well, because from time to time they’d look at me for recognition — “Remember Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood?” No, in fact, I don’t — I didn’t grow up to Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood. I grew up to BatibotBlue Blink and the Tagalog version of Bananas in Pyjamas (you must empathize me when I discovered that this show wasn’t, in fact, a Filipino original –  it felt very surreal when I discovered that I was merely watching the dubbed version of B1 and B2).

While on our walk yesterday, my boyfriend and I realized that what I thought was a twinkie was in fact, a strawberry flakie. He couldn’t understand how I didn’t know what a twinkie was; it’s apparently a staple treat while growing up. But those weren’t my treats — my treats were dirty meringues and bananas deep-fried and covered in melted sugary goodness.

These yummy meringue kisses are sold as street food in the Philippines.


Banana Cue – the yummy goodness that is future diabetes.

When my boyfriend and I first started going out 8 years ago, he made it his mission to introduce me to everything he enjoyed when he was a kid: from eating Kraft Dinner while in bed to enjoying every South Park episode ever made into existence, along with a Hungryman Dinner. I would try to explain to him the joy of sitting with your maids under mango trees and eating green mangoes with bagoong, while telling ghost stories about the monster capital in the Philippines: Capiz.

I would help him envision living  weekends by the ocean, and how I captured a squid and a starfish and put them in a cooler, hoping to take them home as pets. When I checked in on them later in the evening, I was horrified to see nothing but blackness on what was once clear water — and upon reaching in to pet my creatures, came up with mutilated bits and pieces of starfish instead.

Even talking about our old accidents makes us marvel at the stark differences of our origins. While his scars can be attributed from single accidents in playgrounds, mine varied by intensity and environment: a long and deep cut on the side of my thigh from falling from the top of a natural waterfall, drowning not once in my life, but once every summer, and that time I almost died drowning in miserable, thick goo made of mud, pig food, and pig feces.

While he talked to me about his bullies and the fires they set in the fields of New Brunswick, I’d tell him about the nipa huts I slept in during the times I spent with my aunt in her farm, while the chickens crooned underneath the bamboo floors.

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 3.15.41 PM

Not the actual nipa hut I spent my summers in, but you get the idea.

He would tell me about the afternoons he spent with his babysitter; I would tell him about the afternoons I visited the slums in Taguig (called the squatter area) to visit relatives, who would pepper me with money and food they didn’t have, and how my mother would reprimand me about accepting these gifts — about how, for the longest time, I assumed everyone was the same, and that money and hierarchy didn’t matter because I saw, first hand, what it was like to be stricken with poverty — and how the lack of money and material things never had any significant effect to the happiness and content they still experienced in their every day.

An aerial view of the slums in Taguig, Metro Manila. Photography by Jason Doiy.

So when I sit with my friends and they talk about how they grew up wanting Swatches, and Tamagochis, I find myself not being able to relate. Because even though as a child, I had wanted the same things, it didn’t decide my childhood, nor mark it.

What I remember from my childhood is the environment, because that is what I cannot recapture: the warm, enveloping sun, the sounds of stray dogs barking, the smell of saltwater wafting in from the ocean, and that feeling of endless sand as soft as flour sifting through your fingers, embracing you deep into its melting arms.

I remember being grateful for the things I had, not constantly pining for the things I didn’t posses. I remember being perfectly happy by myself, because social connections did not define who I was. I remember having a sense of completion and progress, and having that knowledge nestled deep within me, because I didn’t feel the pressure of societal expectations.

I remember spending afternoons watching my dogs give birth, feeding my chickens, and climbing into people’s homes, pretending we were being chased by aswangs. I remember trying to convince my grandpa, my tatang, to stop giving me hundred peso bills, knowing he couldn’t afford it — so he built me a bamboo coin bank instead, so that I wouldn’t see the amount of money my relatives were giving me.

What I remember from my childhood is quite different from the childhood my friends remember in Canada, and I wonder if there is ever a time in my adulthood that I would be able to reconcile my childhood in the Philippines with the life I ended up living in Canada.

It just seems like the more that time pass, the more I feel disconnected from the country I made my second home, as I recall more and more vividly, the picturesque surreality of my old life, which I was too young and naive to understand and appreciate.


These Things are Your Becoming

starcrossed by nondani

starcrossed by nondani

It’s the in-between that you miss,
that won’t materialize into meaning until you are reminded of  fallibility,
of your great potential for demise.
So when the end comes knocking at your door,
always remember the moments you felt the most alive:

Waking up on Sunday mornings,
with the rain beating outside your window,
wrapped in his arms, legs lost and intertwined between blanket and flesh,
above the mattress you swore was heaven–

When you drank your hot cocoa on a cold, winter’s night,
your head against his shoulder,
watching a movie you’ve both seen a dozen times,
trying your best to stay awake at 3 am
because you’re so afraid of losing time–

When you watched him skate through thin ice,
the stars drowning in a sea of cold air and vulnerability,
and in the dark you could barely see
that hand that reached out to you,
inviting you to come in,
reassuring you that it’s safe to come —
so you did,
despite your doubt,
despite your paralyzing fear,
you willed your body into movement
and came–

When you both held hands and yelled at the waves,
as it crashed into your bodies in an attempt to hold you down,
and you held on to each other for strength and courage,
and you screamed at the top of your lungs —
pretending the ocean was the mother, the father, the sister and the friends
disappointed in you for falling in love with each other–

When you turned to him to see him smile,
as he stared at the windows of your first apartment:
and for a while you did not see fear or hesitation–
all you saw was possibility, and the sun streaming in through the window,
lighting the empty space to mould it into a room full of laughter, not decay,
of enthusiasm and ferocious felicity painted on the walls,
imprinting an image so real in your mind that it shocked you into the realization
that every room in the world will be brought into life by the love that you hold,
as long as you’re huddled against each other — it will become your home —

When you tried to push a couch through a window because it was too big for the door,
while he waited on the other side, and it began to rain —
you caught each other’s eyes and laughed maniacally,
because you loved each other,
in all moments,
even those of great absurdity —

When you finally allowed your eyes to rest,
the rising sun against the backdrop of a city ; the last thing you saw on the horizon,
and that warm, safe feeling of being enveloped in a cocoon made of blankets and arms
that hold you still despite the ravenous pounding of your heart:
those eyes that only part when you stop speaking,
and letting yourself be mapped naked into fragility,
because it’s the only way to be loved within every inch of your being–

The total surrender of your identity, foundation and flaws combined,
and those days of endless euphoria and undeniable recognizance,
remember it, cherish it, enliven it,
for these things are your becoming.


An Open Letter to Charlie

Drug Addiction by ScottyRobotty

Drug Addiction by ScottyRobotty

Dear Charlie,

They know you by different names, but I feel the most comfortable with Charlie, probably because the name doesn’t sound threatening—more like a friend, the boy next door. Gold Dust sounded too surreal, and out of touch with reality. Angel Dust seemed like the worst metaphor we could bestow upon you.

Tony was too daunting; when I first heard it brought up as a name, I so petulantly asked why. He said, “Scarface!” But Scarface didn’t make me feel any better. You didn’t sound like something people would kill for, you were more like a friend. A feel-good one.

And for the longest time, I did think you were one.

You made gatherings and parties so much livelier, so I kept introducing you to everyone I knew. You got along with everybody so well too, so much so that after a while, I didn’t feel like I had to put so much effort into socializing—you did it for me. And that was one of the biggest reliefs I’ve had for a while. Like a great weight just rolled past my shoulder; so smoothly it dipped past me in one, flowing wave. As long as I  brought you with me, I didn’t have to put in as much effort to be funny, to entertain, to be social. You were what everyone came for, and that was pressure I was happy to relieve from myself.

You made staying up so fun! You made it so easy, and possible. I lost track of time and days amalgamated from one sunrise to the next. We hid when we heard the birds sing, because we were terrified at what the new day implied – a day of being hung-over, of trying to wretch ourselves off you, trying to enter into society sober and acceptable. I felt my days go longer, as if we were standing in an infinite standstill of euphoria and reciprocity. Nothing mattered except you—and that made things easier somehow.

I looked at “normal” people and pitied them: I wondered about the problems they carried. I wondered about the worries that age them, marked on their faces like death sentences. How much anxiety can be stored in one mind? How many fears and insecurities can you compact in one being? I had no worries, nor fear, nor anxiety. Charlie, you took them all away from me. The only worry I had in me was when I could have you next, and how I could make this thing you make me feel inside last permanently, without pain or consequence, just an ongoing onslaught of euphoria to keep me alive and existing.

But all things come to an end, and our relationship came to a crashing halt so immediate I barely had time to register what we used to have together. When our binges turned into weeks, I knew I had lost control. When I started losing my friends because of you, I couldn’t deny my self-destruction any longer. Depending on you was probably the worst mistake I ever did materialize. I don’t know why I let it happen but it did. They warned me that you were bad; they didn’t warn me about how deceptive your mind can get once you have convinced yourself that this is what you truly want.

Depending on you didn’t come instantly, as others like us to believe. It happens in increments. It happens slowly; it took us years, didn’t it? It takes months and months of justifications, of senseless reasoning: “Of course, I’m going to partake tonight, it’s the end of the week! I worked hard all week and I deserve to let stress out.” It takes friends to encourage you, to participate, until the habit is normalized into your every day life. Depending on you doesn’t take the will of a single person: it takes a lifestyle. It takes a tormenting past, of years and years of childhood and innocence lost. It takes unhappiness to the deepest core: it takes escapism so badly desired, because your every day is what weighs you.

And if there is one thing I learned throughout this whole experience is that the greatest enemy we have is our ever-lying mind. We lie to others, but we lie mostly to ourselves. We tell ourselves we’re okay at a time when we are in the most desperate need of help. This is how dependency occurs; how addiction is born.

And once you find yourself in that situation, it’s so hard to solidify your problem in a single sentence that would immortalize the truth you’ve been afraid of for so long. It seems like a moment of total surrender, of total loss. It’s admitting to yourself that you were wrong, that you have been wrong the past few years, and that now you need help. Help from the people you turned away to pursue what you thought would make you happy forever, would solve all your problems. Do you understand how hard it was for me, Charlie? To ask for help I fully believed I did not deserve.

Being honest with myself was perhaps the hardest thing I ever did, because lying comes far too easily. Because to be honest meant admitting to myself that I am worth more than I have led myself to believe, that as a human being I have the capacity to induce laughter and kindess to the people around me, that I have a responsibility to the world to be alive and to have purpose, to continue on helping others in any way I can — but to do that, I had to be well, I had to help myself, I had to understand that I was worth helping, and that I had a reason to exist.

I’m sorry Charlie. I’m sorry I took what could have been beautiful and used it for my own benefit, until it turned into something more evil than greed, more destructive than hate. I’m sorry I mistook perfection for ephemeral felicity, for wanting madness and adrenaline to last me 24 hours a day. I forgot that to be human is to struggle, because it’s the struggle that makes us stronger, that makes us more resilient.

One second of perfection takes years of combat, failures and total surrender – but that’s what makes it worth it.

Peace, love and empathy.

creativity by crisvector

creativity by crisvector

Response to Daily Prompt: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

Tell us something most people probably don’t know about you.

I am, more often than not, looking for the right words to say, and it is only when they come to life in written or spoken form, am I so thoroughly convinced, that they were the wrong ones to begin with.

Most of the time, I feel this immense pressure to write something grandiose and meaningful, as if I everything I say or do needs to matter, otherwise I’m just wasting my time.

This leads to countless of half-written drafts, always beginning with so much promise and enthusiasm, only to end in a half-mark, majestic and marvellous ideas forever left behind. I have more incomplete drafts than published ones, and I always prefer the former.

The only thing that keeps me sane is reassuring myself with the thought that I am just a side character in everyone’s stories: that most of the time, I am just a dot in the span of their whole existence, and that the things I write/say are so insignificant that it barely registers as a complete sentence in their lives. This makes me feel better about myself; knowing that I am unimportant.

But sometimes, this very thought is what keeps me up at night. On most days I want to re-position myself in everybody’s minds and force my identity to reside permanently inside them, so that they can only think of me, and never forget who I am. I suffocate at the thought of mediocrity, so I aim to gather as much attention as I can grab, so that I may reaffirm my existence through other people’s words/thoughts. If I am not talked to, or talked about, I get surreal: if I don’t make a sound I will revert to the abstract, I will cease to exist.

So I write! I write thoughts and ideas to frame my identity, to solidify my being. I let the words form physicality so that even though my body keeps aging, becoming stranger and stranger to me every day that I look in the mirror and  fail to recognize myself, my words are what remains the same and what I will undoubtedly know is still mine.

And yet it is the very pressure of having to write to re-establish my existence that drives me crazy: and so I try to convince myself that I don’t matter – it’s a never-ending thing, these fears and insecurities.

Most people think that I’m just creative. What most people don’t realize is that I have, in fact, driven myself mad.


The Thin Line that Separates Madness from Creativity